This Weeks prompt: 19. Revise 1907 tale—painting of ultimate horror.
There was something frustrating about the invasive thoughts now, as much as they were worrying. Some she was still able to exorcise with pen and paper. Solar temples holding demonic gods and the courts of fae, tables filled with a humanitarian feast were easy enough. Quick sketches on the bottom lengths of paper, easily buried in a pocket or hidden beneath a shifted pile. But then there were other thoughts, less easily separated from her own. Worries about being late for the train were supplemented by images of crowds of people like cattle to the slaughter of lives and she couldn’t place where her idea started and the interruption began.
As the bell at her desk rang, Lenora carefully picked up all the sketches and shoved them into various coat pockets. They weren’t important, really, but they might be useful in case it got out of control. She’d be able to explain things better with diagrams anyway.
“Night Daniel.” She said pushing her chair in and putting on her stained coat. The red was running down the back and arm of it as well. Must be slow drying, Lenora thought.
“Hm? Oh, night Lenora. Be careful out there.”
“ What about old blood hands? I don’t think he’ll be a big problem.” Lenora said with a shrug.Daniel looked at her over his spectacles for a moment before sighing and waving her out.
The mists of town were as thick as at morning, if not thicker. The moon’s light cut through it in patches with islands of artificial light sticking out of sea. She was careful not to trip over the muck and the mold, making her way to the train station as quick as she could. Regardless of what she told Daniel, the night felt more predatory than normal. The lampposts had some ocular quality, glowing balls of fire examining her every move. She was shaking a bit at the train station when the click clack came and she got aboard.
The night train was less full than the morning one. Less people went home at the same time as came in. Lenora was happy to finally be able to sit down at something more comfortable than the office desk. The train began to lurch forward as she leaned back and let out a long relaxed sigh. The pitter patter of the rain was a relaxing beat as she rode home.
Midway through, the ding of the train woke her from her pseudo slumber. Blinking to awareness, she turned to see the rain still streaking across the window. But there was a pattern to it, she saw. Squinting, each drop fell in order, forming a long fractal grin. Teeth within teeth, as what were once lips became fractures and stretched from corner to corner, growing and consuming the entire window. It spiraled and spread, and Lenora’s throat began to close again as the spark of recognition came. It was Peter’s smile of broken glass, ready to gobble her up from the window.
She nearly toppled over, jumping out of her seat. Scrambling to her feet, she did her best to compose herself, putting distance between her and the window. That pattern had vanished, the dots no longer connecting properly to form the face. She must be seeing things, flustered over strange thoughts and Peter’s presence at the office. It was unlikely he could follow her everywhere after all. He didn’t even know her name.
Lenora walked up the the steps, four floors from the ground, to her apartment. It was an older building, mass produced in its way. Universal floor plan, though the wallpaper randomly went from light green to pink with vines on the third floor. Lenora slipped into her apartment without a second thought.
“Lenny, that you?” Deliah shouted from her bedroom.
“Yeah, just got in.”
“You okay?” Deliah said, emerging from her room. She was a bit bigger than Lenora, a bit taller, a bit wider, and with eyes that were a size too big for her head.
“I’m fine. Weird run-in at work, and no it’s not blood, some freak with red paint on his hands.”
“ Weird. Gaunt guy with a bleeding hand stopped by for you.”
“…was his name Peter?”
“Oh. So, you do know him?” Deliah said, shifting a little. Lenora paused midway through filling a pan with water and slowly turned about.
“No…No I don’t. He’s been following me all day. Why? Do you?” Lenora asked, emptying the pan into the water, and rotating her grip. Deliah began rubbing her arm a bit.
“Ah, well, he said he was a coworker, and that you’d left somethings at work that he wanted to return. Seemed kind off, but chatted up well…Your sure you don’t know him?”
“I met him today, on the train. You told him I lived here?” Lenora asked, leaning forward.
“No, no, just promised I’d get the box to you, that’s all! I figured you were friends or –”
“Damn it, how does he know where I live? What box, get the box.” Lenora said, her eyes flashing like lighting, and the pan banging on the sink formed a parallel thunder. Deliah scurried back into her room and emerged with a large cardboard box. Placing it slowly on the table, she slipped back from the inevitable explosion.
Lenora slowly approached the box, putting the pan down beside it. Opening it carefully, she was unsuprised to find a simple note on the top of the insides.
Dear Lenora Eckart,
I hope this finds you well. It is important, I believe, to encourage our artistic talents, and you are one of the best I have seen. Certainly you understand that? That we must break free of this world if we are going to live, burn it down in our minds in order to escape. You’ve seen the shell the world wears, barely constraining its suffering. You’re perfect for letting that all loose.
You’ve seen it all, after all. Imagine the demons of Mr. Hemsworth, the man you found hanging the closet when you were twelve. What kind of people lurked in those nightmares that sent you screaming into your mother’s room, only to be greeted with shouting and tears? What did you want to do to Leonard, when he mugged your sister? All that potential is inside you, waiting for someone to push it loose, to let out the clawing terror. Let it out, and you’ll see how much brighter you burn.
Don’t worry too much about how I found you or why. That’s not terribly relevant. Beneath this note, however, are a number of quite relevant items. I think you’ll find they give your mind the gentle prod it needs to grasp everything as it is. Look and you will see, search and you will find, please try not to run and hide. I am being as gentle as I may, leaving only a couple stains on you that I must.
Peter Fobos Phrike, Esq.
Lenora’s hands were trembling as she put down the letter. She hadn’t told anyone about Mr. Hemsworth, except the police. Let alone the nightmares, or the incident with Leonard. No, she’d kept that inside and quiet. Turning back to the box, she felt a rush of cold bone chilling air. There were pictures, pictures of bugs, of swarms, of desolate ruins, of corpses, of landscapes torn asunder, there were old paintings and many eyed monsters, slaughter houses and houses full of the slaughtered, there were piles of bodies, there were laughing madmen with eyes of fire, there were…Lenora stepped back and collapsed against the wall struggling again to breathe. There were thoughts boiling in her brain, thoughts she’d never had, thoughts she’d never seen.
Plagues terrible and visceral, cannibal mothers and fillicidal fathers, dark secrets etched in crooked street stones, boiling over and over. Her head was burning, her shoulder searing. She heard crying and gnashing of teeth, leprous mourners dragged in the dirt, she had to get it out. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably, as she rocked back and forth. Out.
Crawling, she toppled the box off the table. Pictures and papers fell on top of her like a rain of nightmares, tapes and small sculptures of strange many headed men and women beating on her back, leaving bruises and aches. Huddling beneath it all, she felt a larger, longer paper cover her back. Rising slowly, she braced herself for something new. Some corpse of God, some terrible beast, some heinous crime so terrible that it need all of that space.
It was blank.
Lenora’s hands went still, her rocking stopped. It was blank. She began to feel something rising up her throat from her stomach, rolling crackling noise, at last bursting into a bombastic laugh. A fae laugh, a laugh that drove Deliah under her bed in fright. The laugh that women have as their family burns around them, at the sheer insanity and nonsense of the world. A broken and crushed laugh.
Her hands sifted through the pile, grasping at pens and a number of brushes. Several of what she assumed were small statues were strangely shaped paint cans. Lenora in the moment couldn’t distinguish the inspired thoughts from her own, the thoughts from what her hands were sketching. It was as if she was simply observing something unfolding before her, towers slipping free from the pen, rolling red mist seeping out of their windows. Great infernos giving to way sky splitting storms, people crushed under foot, white mobs of inquisitors lashing the starving. More and more through the night, colors bleeding form her mind into the lines, shadows scorching their way across the fields of light. Every dark thing she had dreamed of, every horror her ears had heard, every monstrous thought dismissed poured itself out in its infinite measure onto the page.
Morning broke, and she stood exhausted. It had stopped. Her mind finally felt free, the burning and bubbling and boiling gone. It was done, and her head was calm and at last Lenora felt relief and release, as if her clothes were light as feathers, a serene silence as if the world had stalled for her to enjoy the peace of the dawn. And then there was the creak of the door opening.
“There, isn’t that much better.” Peter said as Lenora turned around. “I knew you had it in you, little Len.”
The weight of sleep was already tugging on Lenora’s eyes, and her head was almost rolling. The exhaustion made words hard to form, all her effort caught up in standing upright. Still she managed to pull together enough scattered thoughts to talk.
“Get out.” She said, her words blurring together as she nearly stumbled into the painting behind her. Peter waved a dismissive hand and paced around her to better see the painting, stroking his chin.
“Wonderful, wonderful really. You’ve made something one of a kind here. Really, not since Saturn Devouring His Young have I seen this sort of wildness in a –”
“Get out.” Lenora forced out again, glaring unblinking at Peter. Peter raised his eyebrow and stepped forward. Lenora felt an involuntary flinch. The toothy smile spread across Peter’s face, shards of pallid glass protruding from his lips. She stepped back again.
“Now? But we just got started. No, Len, this is the start of something wonderful, something terrible.” he said, taking a long stride toward her. “Let us go gentle about it, eh? Don’t want anything to bruise.”
Lenora stumbled back again, tripping over one of the discarded paint cans. As she fell, she closed her eyes and braced for hitting the wooden floor. But the impact never came. Instead she felt something catch her back. Opening her eyes, Peter was smiling down, his eyes almost aflame.
“Let’s have the next one with less fuss, alright?” he said, his red hand stroking her face. Lenora twitched as it burned again, as the boiling started. Her throat was closing and the burning bulbous spider webs were weaving through her thoughts again, and it would never end.
If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.